Passage to India
President Mahinda Rajapakse begins a
three-day State visit to India today and without being accused of
hyperbole we can say that this visit will be of historic significance.
This is not merely because this is the President's first overseas visit
since assuming office and not even because India is our closest
neighbour bound by a thousand spiritual, religious and cultural ties.
We would rather suggest that the real significance of President
Rajapakse's passage to India lies in the fact that he more than any
other Head of State in recent times has emphasised the pivotal role of
India in Sri Lanka's affairs.
Consistently since assuming office he has urged India to play a
greater role in Sri Lanka's peace process even suggesting that it should
become one of the co-Chairs of the donor group.
This attitude towards India on the part of the new President is no
ritual propitiatory gesture to a large neighbour. It is a recognition of
India's standing in the region, its moral integrity as a nation and
India's stake in peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region. In this
sense to President Rajapakse has revealed himself to be a supreme
pragmatist, a quality he is fast gaining a reputation for.
It is fashionable on ritual occasions to salute India as our friendly
neighbour, the home of Buddhism from where that great healing doctrine
was brought to Sri Lanka and the fount of our common civilisation.
But it is no secret that since independence influential sections of
the ruling elite have been plagued by what can only be called an
Indophobia. Particulary the immediate post-Independence leadership
tended to look at India as a Big Brother who had designs on the
defenceless fledgling state. In a reflex action they began gravitating
into the western orbit and it was only the victory of Prime Minister
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's MEP Government in 1956 which restored the
balance and created the conditions for a healthy relationship between
the two countries.
Recent Indo-Sri Lankan developments which have had their spectacular
ups and downs, themselves stemming from the unconcealed hostility with
which UNP Governments since 1977 have treated India, are too close to
the bone to need recollection here but it is a matter for satisfaction
that once again Indo-Sri Lanka relations are back on the high road with
the advent of the Rajapakse regime.
In his policy statement following the swearing in President Rajapakse
used the phrase 'We are Asian people '(Api Asiyawe Minissu) and this is
symptomatic of the new Government's closeness to the region in contrast
to the contrived and unreal globalisation fashionable among some
quarters or the homage to the West equally widespread among some circles
of the elite.
The cornerstone of this Asianism is obviously India which is not only
an ancient civilisation, the womb so to speak of our own culture and
civilisation, but also a fast developing industrial and commercial power
from whom Sri Lanka can learn much.
While we do not wish to anticipate the President's discussions in New
Delhi with Indian leaders it is safe to assume that he will fully brief
them about the present state of the peace process and will seek India's
participation in moving the process forward.
India has been naturally wary about overt participation in the
process since its unfortunate experience with the Indian Peace Keeping
Force but it will be desirable all round if India agrees to exert its
considerable moral authority in Sri Lanka's quest for peace. For above
all else it is this moral dimension which gives India its unique status
among nations of the world where too often politics has been reduced to
a grubby game in the dust for political power at any cost.
The President's visit to India will also be important in defining the
new foreign policy stances of the new Government.
As we have already observed the President has opened the country's
windows to the fresh winds blowing in from Asia and while naturally Sri
Lanka will continue to have friendly relations with all countries of the
world it is welcome and proper that the new administration should elect
to have warmer ties with particular countries of its choice.
In that sense too the President's sojourn in New Delhi can be the
happy percurser of closer ties with countries of the region.